Linguistics and English Language

Language in context seminar

Speaker: Stephen Joseph McNulty (University of Edinburgh)

Title: From “linguicide” to “linguistic suicide”: An examination of the role of governmental language policy in the decline of indigenous regional languages in France

Abstract: This paper revisits two concepts which have permeated academic literature on language shift and death for decades, and which have frequently been considered opposing: “linguicide” (e.g. Skutnabb-Kangas & Phillipson, 1995) and “linguistic suicide” (Beck & Lam, 2008).

Beginning by critically analysing the implications of both terms, I propose an alternative framework which attempts to incorporate both as separate, but co-occurring phases in the process of language decline. In this process, linguicidal ideologies, internalised by speakers, are viewed as prompting the changes in language attitudes – the “attitude shifts” (cf. Sallabank, 2007) – that motivate their decisions abandon their mother tongue, or that of their ancestors.

Subsequently, the application of this framework to the case of indigenous minority languages (langues régionales) in France is considered, and attempts are made to identify salient “active” and “passive” linguicidal ideologies present in various “declared” (Shohamy, 2006) and “perceived” (Bonacina-Pugh, 2012) language policies from France’s history. An analysis of several sources attesting to the proposed attitude shifts of speakers, influenced by these language policies, is also included.

I conclude by reviewing some more recent policies which could potentially reverse these negative attitudes, and, thus, perhaps, the effects of linguistic suicide.


  • Beck, D. & Lam, Y. (2008) ‘Language Loss and Linguistic Suicide: A Case Study from the Sierra Norte de Puebla, Mexico.’. Toronto Working Papers in Linguistics, 27. 5-16.
  • Bonacina-Pugh, F. (2012) ‘Researching ‘practiced language policies’: insights from conversation analysis’. Language Policy, 11 (3). 213-234.
  • Sallabank, J. M. (2007) Attitude Shift: Identity and language maintenance in Guernsey Norman French. PhD Thesis, Lancaster University. Available: [Accessed 8 August 2018].
  • Shohamy, E. (2006) Language policy : hidden agendas and new approaches. London: Routledge.
  • Skutnabb-Kangas, T. & Phillipson, R. (1995) ‘Linguicide and Linguicism’. In: Skutnabb-Kangas, T. & Phillipson, R. (eds.) Papers in European language Policy. Roskilde: Roskilde Universitetscenter, Lingvistgruppen. 83-91.


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Stephen McNulty

Sarah Van Eyndhoven

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We hope to see you very soon!

May 22 2019 -

Language in context seminar

2019-05-22: From “linguicide” to “linguistic suicide”: An examination of the role of governmental language policy in the decline of indigenous regional languages in France

Room 1.17, Dugald Stewart Building, 3 Charles Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9AD